Dancing for equality, LGBT Pinoys make history at Gay Games

Anna Gabrielle Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2018 04:33 PM

The Filipino finalists pose with the Philippine flag. Jeront Villegas 

Members of the Filipino LGBTQ+ community swept the world off their feet as they made history at this year's Gay Games in Paris, France.

Out of over dozens of pairs from across the globe, Filipino dancers, Niel Enopia and Ezekiel Vargaz, Jan Gabriel and JR Marquez, and Jeffery Calamaya and Jay Mapacpac, stole the show. 

For the first time since the inaguration of the competition in 1982, drag (or cross-dressing) partnerships qualified -- and dominated -- the Grade A (classification for highest skilled) finals. 
Enopia and Vargaz bagged the gold medal for the world showdance competition, and the silver medal for the dancesport men's division. Meanwhile, Calamaya and Mapacpac placed second in the world showdance and fifth in the men's division. Gabriel and Marquez, on the other hand, finished fourth in both competitions. 

"Bilib lahat ng lahi sa 'ting mga Pinoy! Iba daw ung puso natin, talent at discipline," Vargaz said.

(Everyone was impressed with the Filipinos! They said our heart, talent, and discipline is one of a kind.)

"Hopefully same-sex dancesport will be applied to the mainstream rules, especially in the Philippines," Enopia said, echoing the plea of the other dancers. 

Ezekiel Vargaz

In mainstream dancesport, however, a same-sex partnership would immediately have them disqualified. According to the rulebook of the DanceSport Federation, a pair must strictly consist of a man and a woman -- with whoever wears the pants taking the lead and the one in heels following. 

The Gay Games, however, offers a rare opportunity for same-sex pairs like Enopia and Vargaz to dance for medals openly as the competition welcomes any form of partnership on and off the dancefloor.

Entrants can compete as a man or a woman and are allowed to switch leads througout their routine.

"Empowerment has been the heart of Gay Games since its creation," Manuel Picaud, president of Gay Games Paris, said. 

"Our message focuses on how sports should be open to all and respecting diversity. Participating in the Gay Games means supporting our values of diversity, respect, equality, solidarity, and sharing," Picaud further explained. 

Gabriel believes the the competition gave him and his fellow dancers a platform to be a role model to Filipinos. "By pursuing a same-sex partnership, I hope we inspired the LGBT youth that indeed, there is a space for same-sex couples in the world of dancesport — and beyond the world of dance.

Charlz-Trevor Ng

Likewise, Calamaya stated that the sex of the partner should not dictate the quality of performance. "Wala naman pinagkaiba ang pag-sayaw mo kahit lalaki man ang partner mo o babae. Basta gawin mo lang 'yung role mo, walang problem."

(There is no difference if you are dancing with a man or if your partner is a woman. As long as you do your role, there won't be a problem.)

Calamaya also noted that the competition provided the dancers a chance to show their talents without being constricted by heterosexual norms. 

Similarly, Enopia hopes opportunities similar to the ones provided by the Gay Games will be mirrored in the Philippines. "A lot of the members of the LGBT Community are skilled and artistic," Enopia noted. 

Gabriel emphasized that the stereotype of gays dominating the arts is not without basis. He said: "The gays are the alpha males in the world of arts. However, despite the gay-dominant environment, some dances like ballroom can be very constricting in terms of expressing one's gender identity."

"It can be limiting and sometimes oppressive especially if you identify as somewhere in the middle of being a man and a woman," he continued. 

The Filipino finalists pose for a group photo. Jeront Villegas 

Although worthwhile, the road to Gay Games was not easy for the dancers.

"Our main concern was trying to pool enough funds so that we could afford the entire trip," Gabriel said. 

While getting monetary support for sports is hard enough even for the country's Olympians, the LGBTQI+ dancers found it much more challenging given that the local LGBTQI+ community is struggling to gain recognition first. 

The dancers had to resort to crowding funds online, soliciting sponsorships, and even shelling out their own money.

"Before the Gay Games we endured a lot of difficulties, especially financially," Enopia recalled. "We know na Philippines isn't very open to the LGBT community. We still experience discrimination."

According to Enopia, he danced for equality, hoping to prove that the LGBT community around the world can compete at the same level as their heteresoxual counterparts. 

While Enopia is proud to carry the Philippine flag, he also wants to raise the pride flag, the LGBTQI+ most iconic symbol. 

"We are one. Tayo po ang rainbow ng mundong ibabaw tayo ang nag kukulay sa lahat ng larangan, itaas natin ang bandila ng LGBT."